Famed for his collaborations with David Bowie, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and that bassline from Luther Vandross hit Never Too Much, Grammy Award-winner and Unesco artist for peace Marcus Miller talks to Big Issue North ahead of his first full UK tour and performing his latest album, Afrodeezia. He plays Liverpool Philharmonic, 19 Oct, and Manchester Bridgewater Hall, 23 Oct.
Afrodeezia was inspired by your role as spokesperson for Unesco’s Slave Route Project. Can you explain a little more about the work that went into bringing the album together?
I decided that instead of simply talking about the slave route project, I would do an album that reflected the work we’re doing. So I followed the slave route by collaborating with musicians from different stops along the journey. We played with musicians from West Africa (Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso), from Latin America (Brazil), the Caribbean (Trinidad) and from the US (New Orleans, Texas, NY, Detroit). It was my way of paying respects to my ancestors who made that journey.
What is it about music that provides an effective medium to educate and spread the message of the project?
Music has a way of speaking directly to the soul in a way that’s much harder to do with words. We travel all around the world and, even though I can’t speak the language in some of the places we play, the language of music seems to be understood everywhere. Because of that, I think we make great ambassadors.
Is there a particular emphasis attached to reaching out to young people and engaging them with the history of slavery?
Yes, it’s very important that young people know the history of the Atlantic slave trade. We don’t want the details of this terrible chapter of history to be forgotten. They need to pass the story in to their children. That doesn’t mean we dwell on the horrors of slavery. We acknowledge how incredibly difficult those times were, then we emphasise that we need to celebrate the strength of a people who made it through that era of oppression and managed to maintain their humanity and dignity. We also emphasise how important music was in providing them with strength to carry on.
Do you see this album as taking your music in a different direction. Has it been in your intentions for a long time?
I’ve been aware of the power of music for a long time. When I wrote Tutu for Miles Davis in support of the anti-apartheid movement, I got a lot of messages from people thanking us for the support they drew from the music. That was an eye-opener for me. I didn’t think the music would be heard by people over there. The government was censoring things at that time. But South Africans told me that they would find ways to hear the music they needed to hear and Tutu was very important to them. So I know music can be powerful. This is my latest step in trying to make a difference with my music.
How are you feeling ahead of your first full UK tour?
I can’t wait to get back to the UK and show everyone my band, which is fantastic. The Afrodeezia music has grown even since we recorded it because we’re finding new things in the music each time we play it. So I can’t wait.
We get the feeling you won’t put on an ordinary concert. What can people expect from the shows?
We’re going to do our thing. And I’m going to want to throw some older stuff in there too. So we’re going to have a great time.